Nanjing

Our second trip was to Nanjing, which served as the national capital for six dynasties and now as the capital of Jiangsu Province. Overall, I really enjoyed Nanjing. We were able to visit a lot of places and experience as much of Nanjing in two days. 

Our first visit was to the Dr. Sun Yatsen Mausoleum, which was probably the most memorable highlight of Nanjing. The place was huge— covers 80,000 square meters and the memorial hall of Dr. Sun Yatsen was approached by 392 granite steps. The walk up was a bit of a struggle, especially with the hot weather, but once you reached the top, you were offered a very rewarding view of the mausoleum and Nanjing’s landscape. 

The white statue of Dr. Sun Yatsen was also another highlight . Not only was it huge in size, but it was a neat experience standing in front of the statue of the found father of Republic of China and China’s Democratic Revolution. The statue was situated in a domed circular hall and replicas of his will were on exhibited. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the hall. 

(The walk up)

(Amazing view)

(Dr. Sun Yatsen)

Our next stop was the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, which is the tomb of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. Unfortunately, the path leading to the tomb was closed off due to construction, but we were able to get a glimpse of the main gate.

When we approached the main wall, I initially thought we were approaching a fortress of some sort. The wall wasn’t particularly big or tall, but it still resembled intimidating barriers I would only see in Lord of the Rings movies. I only discovered later on that in order to prevent robbery of the tomb, the construction of this Mausoleum was under heavy security, involving more than 100,00 laborers and 5,000 troops. 

Next stop was a cruise around the Qinhuai River and it was a brief yet relaxing ride. It was a simple cruise that took us along the river, and we were able to pass by different style restaurants and festivities that were taking place. 

(Smile for the camera!)

The next morning, we visited the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. Due to respect for the happenings of the Nanjing Massacre, we were instructed not to take photos inside the museum.

The museum itself was set up very nicely. Each room had multiple features, whether it was photos from the war, personal accounts of survivors, or just basic information on the war and massacre. The lighting was set very dim and I just found myself reflecting on the atrocities and suffering innocent Chinese citizens faced.

(Nanjing Massacre Museum)

We were then scheduled to visit the famous Zhonghua Gate, but due to the heavy rain, we had no choice but to return to Shanghai.

(We were able to drive by the Zhonghua Gate)

Next post will be on our trip to Suzhou! 

Hangzhou

Our first trip was to Hangzhou, and it was probably my favorite city to visit. Not only was the hotel great quality, but the sites we visited were reflective of Hangzhou’s significance and they offered beautiful views of city. We first stopped by Hangzhou’s popular West Lake and took a boat ride through a portion of the lake. Besides the 95 degree with high humidity weather, it was a very pleasant ride. We were able to get a clear view of all the street shops and events that took place along the river, and there were many foreigners in attendance. Some boat rides included a large table in the middle where you can enjoy drinking tea—mostly green tea. It seemed like a very pleasant way to spend your summer afternoon chatting with your friends or family while drinking tea. 

(Group photo in front of the West Lake) 

(View from the boat ride)

Speaking of green tea, our next destination was the Dragon Well Tea Garden, where they produce China’s finest green tea leaves. Unfortunately the green tea “doctor” —what they call the experts— was not available, so another expert gave us a quick tour of how they warm up the leaves and package it for sell. There are different sorts of green tea leaves, each differing in quality and the number of times you can re-use them for drinking purposes. One thing I noticed about China is that everyone drinks green tea, even during meals. All the restaurants I’ve been to served green tea instead of plain water, and I honestly prefer drinking green tea before, during, and after meals. It’s perfect for detox and helps digest food, especially Chinese food which typically contains a lot of salt, sodium, and MSG. It’s also supposed to have multiple health benefits, such as clearer skin and improved eye sight if you allow the steam into your eyes/skin. With all the great benefits AND taste, I can see why drinking green tea is so common in China.

(At the Dragon Well Tea Garden)

(Front courtyard) 

(Classmates receiving the “green tea eye treatment”)

(Heating the green tea leaves up)

The last stop for the day was at the Liefeng Pagoda and it was my personal favorite. This is where the famous Chinese love story of the white snake is based on although it was a long way up to reach the top, it was worth it. The view was amazing— I found myself staring out into the scenery for at least 15 minutes, just admiring the beautiful view of Hangzhou. 

The following day, we visited the Lingyin Temple—Hangzhou’s most famous temple. It was actually my first time visiting a Buddhist temple so it was a pretty neat experience, especially since it was founded in 328 AD. There were multiple levels that consisted of even larger statues, and people would pay their respects by bowing while holding incense sticks.

Overall, Hangzhou did not disappoint!

My First Week..”Traffic lights are for decoration purposes”

Ni hao! I will be using this blog to detail my experience here in Shanghai and share my two-month journey in a new country.

It’s crazy how time flies by when you’re in a foreign country and experiencing everything for the first time. It has only been 12 days, but it feels like I’ve been here for at least a month. To begin, my first week and a half here has been an amazing experience thus far. When I first arrived at Pudong Airport, I was surprised by how neat and modern the airport was. Fortunately, everything was labeled in English and the staff members I asked for help spoke relatively good English as well, so I had a comfortable time getting my luggage at the airport. I also contacted another CMU student in the program before departing for Shanghai and we met up at Pudong Airport because our flights were only 20 minutes apart. It was both of our first time in China and it was nice sharing a taxi ride to the hotel we’re staying at with a familiar face. Unfortunately,  we experienced our first tragic moment when our taxi driver charged us 350 rmb when in fact, our CMU Chinese director informed us that the cost should only be around 180-200 rmb. We had no choice but to pay the 350 rmb, but we didn’t really worry because we asked the driver for a receipt and planned on giving the receipt—which was supposed to contain the driver’s information—to Dr. Yu so we can receive a refund. However, we were later told by Dr. Yu that the driver didn’t actually give us the correct receipt, but some kind of gas receipt, and that it might be difficult for her to get our money back. It was truly a wake up call for both me and my roommate given the fact that our Chinese reading abilities were very limited at the time and we didn’t know any better to double check that it was the correct receipt. 

Once we arrived at the hotel, we transitioned comfortably into our rooms and met everyone in the program the following days. We all befriended one another and pretty much travel everywhere as a group now, whether it’s going to class, eating meals, or exploring Shanghai. Because we all live in the same hotel, we have many opportunities to explore Shanghai together. For example, the first weekend we all traveled to a region known as the People’s Square where there are a lot of foreign and domestic shops. It almost had a NYC Times Square-esque feeling to it at night with all the stores lighting up and thousands of people—natives and foreigners—walking down the large street. There were street performers dancing to traditional Chinese music and even people performing tricks with their dogs. It was fascinating to see the vast amount of activity that goes on at night and how active everyone is, old and young. 

(People’s Square- day and night)

Classes began last Monday and given the fact that I haven’t take a Chinese class since my sophomore year, it has honestly been a struggle. Almost everyone in the program just took a Chinese class last semester so it has been a comfortable transition for them, but for me, it has been over a year since I last used Chinese intensively. Also, the professors teach 95% of the class in Mandarin so it’s definitely a challenge understanding what the professors are saying at times. Nevertheless, I’m still enjoying the classes and find the challenge exciting. I plan on using these two months to learn as much Mandarin as possible and interact with as many natives as possible. 

We also have a lot of school trips planned for the next two months. Last week we went to the Oriental Pearl Tower, about a 30 minute drive from campus, and saw an amazing view of Shanghai from the top floor. We also stood atop a glass, transparent floor that is about one level from the top floor and you could see everything below— by far the most terrifying yet exciting experience thus far. 

(As you can observe.. I was terrified)

(In front of the Oriental Pearl Tower)

I thought the biggest challenge would be adjusting to the food, but since the first day I arrived in Shanghai, the food has been amazing. Every meal is simple—consists of pretty much rice and meat—and very cheap compared to your average meal in America. There is also a lot of street food everywhere you go in Shanghai, and we were advised to avoid it, especially when the weather gets much more humid and warm. But I couldn’t resist and tried a few street vendors, which all actually turned out to be very delicious. Most street food cost between 1-7rmb, which is equivalent to $1 or less. 

Traffic is probably the most dangerous aspect of Shanghai, and China in general. The tour guide for our trip to the Oriental Pearl Tower put it the best— “traffic lights in China are for decoration purposes.” Besides cars, the main form of transportation here are mopeds, and they’re pretty much parked everywhere—sidewalks, in front of stores, parking lots, etc. There are separate lanes for mopeds or bicycles, and  cars, which makes traffic a bit more organized, but still very dangerous to cross the streets. When crossing the street, I always have to be extra cautious for people riding mopeds or bicycles because they basically disregard traffic lights. If they see an opening, they cross the street. 

(Mopeds are everywhere!)

Overall, my first week in Shanghai has been amazing. The people, food, environment, classes, and even trips have all exceeded my expectations and i really look forward to the upcoming weeks. Now that I have completely adjusted to Shanghai, even my sleeping schedule, I will update much more frequently. In particular, I’m very excited for a two-day trip this weekend to Hangzhou and then to Nanjing the following week. I’m very interested to see how those cities vary with Shanghai and look forward to experience much more of China. Many more pictures to follow!